Tuesday night, my friend Craig and I had dinner at Mojo in the French Quarter. As we settled into our outside seats facing Governor Nicholls, we noticed an NOPD horse tied up to a post under a gallery nearby. The horse was a little restless, licking the poles and the hood of the van parked in front of it.
Mid-way through our dinner, I started to cross the street to see if the horse was OK. Right about the time I noticed that there were two horses tied up, not one, a local resident yelled, “Don’t go over there. The cops will come out and try to arrest you.”
Over the next hour, Craig and I were told by our fellow diners that the cops in question frequented the neighborhood for dinner. Where they regularly tied up and left their horses.
As we got on our bikes and made our way up Governor Nicholls toward Treme, we could see the cops in question, seated at a nearby restaurant, their backs to the street.
“Well, at least they have water,” I said as we passed by. “Unlike their horses.”
I didn’t sleep well Tuesday night. And I woke up yesterday morning still unsettled. While I’m no expert on the proper care of horses on a hot August night, I am human, and no human I know likes to witness even the possibility of animals being neglected. So I reported what I had seen to folks who are experts: the Independent Police Monitor and the LA-SPCA.
Still, even after filing the reports, I felt unsettled. And I knew why. It wasn’t just what I had seen; it was how I had felt.
Because, you see, more than anything, what I felt as I sat for an hour watching those unattended horses; what I felt as I biked by those laughing cops; what I felt as the Independent Police Monitor asked if I wanted to file an anonymous report; what I feel now as I type these words…
What I feel … is fear.
Fear of the very institution that is supposed to protect those of us who live and visit here.
And that is unsettling. Deeply unsettling.
It is unsettling because my stepfather was a 20-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department. I grew up in a house where you respected the police because you knew that the police respected you.
It is unsettling because, as I reached out to friends across this city and I asked them if I was overreacting, not a one of them said “no.” Not a one of them said they trusted the institution of the NOPD .. .and this group included a former judge.
Individual officers? Sure, each of them sited specific cops they trusted (including, here in the Treme, our own Commander Norton). But not a one said he or she trusted the institution. Not a one.
It is unsettling because, as I replayed seeing those unattended horses in my mind, the floodgates opened and I saw all of the other things I’ve witnessed, first-hand, in the short two years I’ve lived in our great city.
The cop who stood on my porch and laughed at me when I asked if he was going to enforce a noise agreement that my neighborhood association had worked hard to put together. The cops who regularly drive through Armstrong Park only so they can pull right up to citizens asleep on park benches and blare their sirens and horns (and if you think that’s an appropriate way to treat a fellow human being — whether he has housing, an addiction, or whatever — please keep that opinion to yourself). I saw the two cops who misclassified a violent crime against a neighbor–one that left his teeth and gums scattered along the street–into the statistic they wanted (attempted robbery) instead of the attack it was (aggravated assault) .
I saw, I saw, I saw. I saw many injustices. Inflicted on the protected by the protectors.
And it all makes me feel so very unsettled. Because, you see, while this city has gotten quite good at hosting press conferences where it talks about reform, it remains not so good at actually producing reform.
I’m not alone on this point. In a nola.com survey taken after the consent decree — the court-enforced action plan for overhauling NOPD policies and practices — was (finally) signed, 42 percent of New Orleans residents said they thought it was “extremely doubtful” reform would actually occur. 42 percent.
Which is unsettling. Deeply unsettling.
This column is dedicated to Cynthia Houston, Jeremy Curry, and Adam Johnson. These are the known NOLA residents killed since last week’s column.
Brett Will Taylor is a southern Shaman who writes Love: NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his site at ashamansjourney.net.